A southern Ontario mom is hoping to thank an anonymous teenage boy for helping break down gender barriers for her six-year-old daughter.
Jeanean Thomas says her only child, Peyton, had always wanted to take up skateboarding but had been intimidated from doing so by the lack of girls she saw on the streets.
Thomas says a trip to a local skateboard park seemed to reinforce this fear until the unidentified teen stepped in.
Thomas says the boy, who she estimates to be about 15, took the time to come over to her daughter, correct her stance on the board and generally offer helpful tips.
She says he continued to offer advice for about an hour while still interacting with his friends, some of whom indulged in some light heckling as he coached Peyton.
Thomas says she posted a letter to the unknown teen on social media in an effort to thank him for his kindness and show him that his actions had value beyond the skateboard track.
"(Young people) don't have to conform to any kind of gender stereotypes," the 29-year-old said in a telephone interview. "If they find something that interests them, then do it. Don't listen to what people tell you you should or shouldn't be doing based on your gender."
Thomas said such lessons formed an early part of her childhood when she was encouraged to indulge her love of the Ninja Turtles while her brother played with Butterfly Barbie.
Peyton's early fascination with skateboarding, she said, simply struck her as an extension of her mom's early preferences. But Thomas said her daughter perceived barriers where she herself never had.
"One day she said, 'I really wish that I could skateboard.' And I said, 'well, why can't you? My old skateboard's in the basement. Go for it.' And she went, 'You have a skateboard?' And I said, 'yeah, why is that weird?" And she's like, 'I thought only boys skateboarded.'"
Thomas said it took some coaxing to get her daughter to overcome her scruples and venture out to the park in Cambridge, Ont., earlier this month, and the sight of several teenage boys "smoking and swearing" did little to ease her concerns.
Thomas said she stood on the sidelines as Peyton took her first tentative spin on the skateboard, half anticipating a clash with teens she feared may be disrespectful to her child.
The exchange with the unknown boy, she said, opened her eyes to a different set of equally troubling stereotypes.
She acknowledged that she would have been less surprised if a teenage girl had been the one to offer unsolicited help, adding that parents can be too quick to rush to judgment based on age as well as gender.
"Think about that group of teens on the corner that (parents) might think are troublesome and just remember that they're probably good kids," she said.
The boy's impromptu coaching techniques, as described in Thomas's letter, paints a picture far removed from stereotypes of teenaged hooliganism.
"You proceeded to spend almost an hour with my daughter showing her how to balance and steer, and she listened to you; A feat not attained by most adults," she wrote in the letter posted to Twitter
and Facebook. "You held her hand and helped her get up when she fell down and I even heard you tell her to stay away from the rails so that she wouldn't get hurt."
The conduct of the teen's friends was less admirable, Thomas said, adding that some of the boys appeared to be teasing him for helping Peyton.
Thomas said the teen's willingness to overlook the heckling made his help all the more valuable and worth of praise.
"I want you to know that I am proud that you are part of my community, and I want to thank you for being kind to my daughter, even though your friends made fun of you for it," her letter concludes. "She left the skate park with a sense of pride and with the confidence that she can do anything, because of you."
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